A sermon preached by Justine Post at The Advocate
Year A, Advent Two
December 4, 2016
A few weeks ago the KKK put out word that they would march a victory parade somewhere in North Carolina on December 3. The location was not shared until Friday night, when they announced to local news that they would be up in Caswell County. I felt strange waking up yesterday morning. I kept looking on facebook and twitter, to try and see what was happening. I felt both disgusted and fearful. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. What was bothering me was bothering a lot of people yesterday morning: it was an intentional move by the KKK to be secretive about their victory rally on a location. It was a move to provoke and promote fear and uncertainty in an already uncertain climate. However, for most of the day there were more protesters than there were any sight of the KKK up in Pelham. In fact there were peace rallies all over the state. People all around North Carolina stood up for love and peace, and there was no sight of the hate group. Yet everyone was in anticipation.
All day I had been checking the news, waiting in anticipation to see what would happen. But it was not a hopeful kind of anticipation. It was a waiting for something bad to happen, like watching a horror movie. This is very UNlike that of the kind of anticipation Advent usually brings about. This season of advent we await IN HOPE, knowing that the Christ Child will come soon. Knowing that we are waiting for something to happen, but that thing that’s about to happen is LIGHT coming into the world to dispel the darkness. It’s supposed to feel different than it did for me yesterday.
This past week I had lunch with a friend who pastors a rural church in Wilson Co. We were talking about what it means to preach. She hasn’t really known what to say or how to say it lately, but every Sunday she still goes up to the pulpit. A few weeks ago she had told the congregation, I don’t care who you voted for, now is the time to repent and remember our baptism. And we will repeat as many times as we need to until it sticks. Baptism is something that reminds us of what we do have in common. So they all renewed their baptismal vows. And she told me- I felt like they could all be on board with that- usually everyone appreciates the act of repentance and remembering our call to be Christians. Yet after the service all that one parishioner could say was… “well I see you got a little political there.”
I find that so interesting. What I keep thinking about is our Christian profession. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord. For some reason I feel like it’s hard at times for us to understand that when we proclaim Jesus as Lord, we are making a political statement. In fact, it’s more like a political threat. We are claiming our allegiances to Jesus- we are relying on him to make things right in this world, not anyone else. Our proclamation that JESUS is Lord (not anyone else) should therefore have an effect on how we live and who we love, and the decisions we make.
And who better to learn about proclamation than John the Baptist, who stirs everything up and making us do things like pay attention and repent. And it’s pretty jolting in Matthew, because John literally just appears. We don’t hear of his birth story or the angel’s word of hope to Elizabeth. He just shows up: preaching in the wilderness of Judea. And he’s begging to be listened to. He shows up wearing strange clothing and eating strange food and asking anyone who has ears to repent and make way for the True God. Some of the first words we read him saying is calling religious leaders a brood of vipers. Here in Matthew we get the John telling people to repent and calling religious leaders out. And we have him preparing people for baptism.
It’s important now more than ever to pay close attention- to remember what Jesus said last Sunday and be watchful. John did not seek to comfort but to challenge. He was one who spoke truth to power. Just think of the climate that John the Baptist was in when we was preaching. The Christ child’s been born but his family is forced to flee from violence. Herod then killed every little boy under two years old living in Bethlehem. It is unimaginable yet we all know this is a part of the Gospel. Violence all around. Herod using power to kill innocent children because he himself feels threatened.
Now in those days John the Baptist came (give or take a few years). In those days of violence, fear, and threats. He came preaching in the wilderness, saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.” Here repentance means so much more than we think. When I hear wilderness and repent in the same sentence, I think of ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’: the iconic river scene, where the escaped convicts go down to get baptized, and Alison Krauss plays in the background. Then they go about their lives, running away and getting into trouble. But the kind of repentance John is talking about is different. It requires a commitment to a new way of life. The word- metanoia- means to change or transform. It goes way beyond saying sorry. It requires work, self-awareness, being in community, and prayer. That’s why John says to bear fruit in keeping with repentance– because it’s an ongoing act that goes beyond confession. We repent, we remember, we repeat.
What’s more, John is calling us to repent so that we may distribute power. We don’t get it in the Matthew text but we get it in Luke. And I know it might be a bit un-anglican of me to do this, but I want to switch Gospels and quote Luke here. The words are just too fitting. There John says that
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
I told this story once when I was teaching Sunday school years ago. I had a big sand box- all morning me and the children made valleys then built them up. We made mountains and brought them low. We made things smooth and even with the sand. Yet isn’t that what allows for the possibility of peaceful relationships? To recognize power and for those in power to let it go? This is why the text in Isaiah is so beautiful, compelling and delectable to our ears. Because if power really could be distributed equally, than the wolf and the lamb could actually dwell together, and a little child really could lead a herd of cows and lions together. Don’t you just crave that? So much peace and unity within such creatures? And Isaiah says, “they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” This is the kind of world that pure repentance could bring.
John says here in Matthew that he baptizes with water for repentance. These two are and always have been intimately connected. When we remember our baptismal vows, we are (or at the least should be) convicted to repent and turn toward God. We recite the Nicene Creed and we remember that we have renounced evil… so yeah we are reminded that our allegiance to Christ is far more important to our allegiances to anyone on this earth. We remember our baptism together, because baptism makes everyone wet, not just some. Are you ever here for a service when Lisa sprinkles you with Holy water? There’s not a chance you’ve escaped dry from one of those services. So not only does baptism represent repentance and a clinging to the Goodness of God, but it means we are all in it together. So we repent, we remember, and we repeat.
Remembering our baptismal vows is something that can give us hope in a tough world. It reminds us of two important things. One: that we might await in Hope for the Prince of Peace- and that we never await in fear for Christ’s coming . And two: we should feel challenged by our baptismal vows. It holds us accountable, and another, it urges us to hold other baptized believers accountable as well.
As a refresher, here’s what our baptism means. It means we will continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers. It means we will persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, we will repent and return to the Lord. It means that we will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. It means we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself. And it means we will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. (With God’s help, of course). We also remember what we renounce: we renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God. We renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. We renounce all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God. We turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as our Savior. And we put our whole trust in his grace and love? We repent, we remember, and we repeat.
These commitments do in fact impact our daily lives. They impact who we love and the decisions we make. Yesterday in North Carolina I believe a lot people remembered their baptism, as thousands gathered for peaceful protests throughout the state. There were so many protesters that the KKK was pushed out of Pelham, then out of Danville. Unfortunately, around 3pm, 30 some members of the KKK drove over to Roxboro- waving confederate flags and some yelling “white power.” It’s upsetting and troubling, yet they weren’t even willing to get out of their cars. What was supposed to be a prideful parade was brought to a short drive. So we’ve got to pray harder and love more. Because if we take heed of John’s witness, we must speak out against hate and violence and evil. We can’t stand by and be quiet. We repent, we remember, we repeat.
So I say remember your baptism.. Pray about what our baptism means for us in this country, pay attention to the ways others are resisting evil and loving neighbor. Reflect on what proclaiming Jesus as LORD means to you in your life. These are dark times, but they aren’t any darker than they were when Christ was born into this world. Only light can extinguish the darkness. The Light of Christ. So we pray and we pray and we pray that Jesus comes to us, and is nearer to us than our very breath. Amen.